As the bulk of the global population gets progressively older, most of us worry about the potential problems it'll create. But a new study suggests that aging and the social changes that go along with it may introduce many positive benefits.

Managing an aging population is going to be challenging, no doubt. We're already feeling the strain on pension systems, economic growth, and rising healthcare costs. But in an effort to offset all this negativity and provide a more balanced and nuanced look at the future, IIASA researcher Elke Loichinge considered the positives.

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Here's what she said we can expect:

  • Increased productivity: While population aging will likely lead to a decline in the labor force, expected increases in workers' education levels can partly compensate for this decline through higher productivity.
  • Aging could be good for the environment: Changes in the age structure and a declining population size are associated with reduced consumption of energy-intensive goods and lower carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Sharing wealth with the younger generations: As life expectancy increases, people would inherit, on average, at older ages and potentially use some of the inheritance to either fund their retirement or help their children financially as they become adults. Moreover, as families have fewer children, inheritance will be split between fewer people, so that, all else being constant, individuals would receive more on average.
  • Health: As people live longer, they also stay healthier longer. The results project that the average German man in 2050 will spend 80% of his lifetime in good health, compared to 63% today.
  • Quality of life: The study suggests that the relationship between leisure, work, and housework will change in the future, with leisure time increasing on average.

This study focused on Germany. It's at an advanced stage of demographic transition, it has a 1.4 fertility rate, and the second oldest average population in the world (median age of 44.3).

Population age distribution, Germany 2010 and 2060. Credit: Loichinge.

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Despite the German focus, Loichinge says similar benefits should be experienced in other countries.

Read the entire study at PLOS: "The advantages of demographic change after the wave: Fewer and older but healthier, greener, and more productive?"

Photo by Daniel Berehulak.